Cessnock Rugby League Centenary

Three weekends ago Cessnock celebrated 100 years of rugby league at an event held at the Cessnock Rugby League Supporters Club, which is the largest club in my electorate. More than 400 players, former players, families and friends gathered to celebrate this occasion. As anyone who grew up in the region would know, the event was a gathering of great names such as Ambrum, Tatana, Schofield, Batey, Levido, Henderson, Peden and, of course, Johns. Sport has been integral to the evolution of communities in my electorate, known as the Hunter coalfields. Many settlers emigrated from Britain bringing not only their talents in mining, but also their many and varied skills in sport, community and family life.

It is also not surprising that in the 1950s and 1960s Cessnock had soccer teams—the other sport—that were the best in the State, and possibly the nation. Those teams won State cups and many players were successful at Australian team level. During the rugby league celebration night attendees appreciated the many interviews that highlighted the game across generations. Of particular note was a period during the 1950s and 1960s that demonstrated the strength and success of rugby league in a decade when Cessnock competed in one grand final after another against its Maitland neighbours. We won some and we lost some, but it was a time when the region’s rugby league strength was at its greatest. This was also a time when players not only played for their own club, but also could expect a call to play for New South Wales and Australia—and many of them did.

As with all gatherings to celebrate times past, somehow the stories were bigger than ever: the runs were longer, the tackles were harder and the victories were sweeter. Apart from the golden era in the 1950s and 1960s it was fascinating to hear stories about the representative Newcastle teams that played against touring teams from France, England and New Zealand. Until the 1970s touring rugby league teams spent several months on tour and used games against the renowned tough Newcastle representative team as a final gauge of their match preparedness. Newcastle representative teams always carried a strong contingent of coalfield rugby league players. To give an insight into the strength of this playing fraternity, many times the Newcastle team beat the best of the touring teams from other nations. One such victory over the touring English team was followed by the English team defeating the Australian team. That indicates the strength of the Newcastle team: it did what the Australian team could not.

As the evening progressed it quickly became clear that the great shame would be the lack of time. I commend the Cessnock rugby league community for its ongoing support of sport, history and community. As with so many rugby league teams of the century announced in the past four years, this Cessnock event created much debate and agreement. I congratulate every member named in the team but, more importantly, every player named as a possible, likely or probable member of such a team. From a cast of several thousand players, to be mentioned amongst the very best must be a privilege and an honour to the family and friends gathered. Congratulations to Cessnock Rugby League Club on 100 years of what is still referred to by many in my area as “football”.